THE ADVOCATE 35
VOL. 79 PART 1 JANUARY 2021
father had eight siblings and my mother had nine, and in turn they had
many children. My father was the only one of Ibrahim’s children that joined
him in his business, while the rest of his siblings pursued other occupations.
My two siblings and I were born in Mbale, Uganda. We grew up in a large,
extended family in Uganda but often visited Kenya and Tanzania where
other family members lived.
We had a good life in Uganda, which was home, with broad family support
and economic security. That changed on August 4, 1972. On that day,
President Idi Amin declared that all Asians had 90 days to leave the country.
He also declared that all Jews had to leave, and he gave them 72 hours.
He was a rabid anti-Semite and referred to the Asian Indians as “brown
Jews”. I consider that a compliment.
At the time of the Amin declaration, my grandfather (Ibrahim) was on his
first extended vacation, travelling through Europe. He could not return to
Uganda. He stayed in London, England, never to return to the place where
he had created a home and lived for almost six decades. Eventually he came
to Canada and died in Vancouver in 1997 at the age of 92.
Idi Amin decided that Asians were to leave without any of their wealth.
They were allowed to take valuables and cash amounting to only 50
shillings (about US$7). If any of us were caught taking any more, we would
be thrown in jail with an uncertain fate.
Overnight, we changed from being well-settled and wealthy citizens of
Uganda to impoverished exiles with no status and no place to go. We were
all afraid and felt helpless. Many countries including Canada came to the
rescue and accepted the departing Asians as refugees. Canada took 7,000
refugees from Uganda, more than any other country. The decision was not
based on humanitarian generosity. It was based on the score at a hockey
Initially, Canada decided to take only 1,000 refugees from Uganda (similar
to many other countries). In September 1972, the Aga Khan arranged a
meeting with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to request that Canada take
more refugees. The meeting was arranged on a day that Canada was playing
Russia in the 1972 hockey series between the two countries. Prime Minister
Trudeau was mildly annoyed that the meeting was set during a game. He
asked his aide to keep him apprised of the score at all times during the
At one point during the meeting, the Aga Khan requested Canada take
more refugees. Prime Minister Trudeau turned to his aide to get his reaction
to the request. The aide thought Prime Minister Trudeau was inquiring
about the hockey score and showed three fingers on each hand (indicating